Improving Software Usability

While my blog reading list has been evolving somewhat recently, one site that I continue to enjoy is Jeff Attwood’s Coding Horror. His post from yesterday talks about improving usability through observation; I liked the point about rolling out experimental features to certain users, and wonder how many companies actually do this?

The post reminds me of a very practical talk that Joshua Schachter gave at FOWA last year entitled “Delicious. Things we’ve learned”. He covers a range of topics, but addresses the usability theme at a number of points:

12:58 – “build features that people will use rather than what they ask for”

17:14 – “watch for interesting behaviour, then amplify/ignore/dampen it”

28:30 – “be careful where you spend your efforts … watch your system carefully”

29:51 – “be sure to measure behaviour rather than claims”

Another company that produces popular web apps is 37 Signals, which I think derives from their focus on usability and simplicity. They cover feature selection in their book “Getting Real”, and the approach they describe is more prescriptive, based on stripping out features until you are left with only the essentials.

Both the MP3 and the book are highly recommended.


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